A few days ago I met with Nigel — CEO of Dunkin’ Brands from 2009 – 2018 where he led significant growth including a highly successful IPO — to discuss his concept of a ‘Challenge Culture’. Prior to Dunkin’ Nigel was president at Blockbusters starting in 2001 for four years where he learned important lessons about not challenging the status quo enough … he explained how they actually missed the opportunity to buy Netflix for only $50 million! Nigel then became CEO of Papa John’s and refined his “Challenge Culture” philosophy.

I asked Nigel about the relationship between the two concepts of challenge and culture, where he shared, “Since writing the ‘Challenge Culture’, I have thought more about the two words in the title. Over time, I have become convinced that the more important word is ‘Culture’. We live in a world where labor shortages at all levels are becoming the norm so the fight for people has to be won. The quickest route to success is by tackling labor turnover and the strength of the organization’s culture is paramount. I see ‘culture’ as a living organism that need feeding and supporting daily through active communication, encouraging employee engagement and supporting accountability at all levels.”

I then asked how a CEO can build positive challenge discussions into the fabric of an enterprise. He responded, “Once a positive environment has been established, challenge can be introduced at a steady rate. In my view, the lead has to come from the top where the leader has to demonstrate a willingness to be challenged on ideas and decisions. Yes this goes again how many organizations are run but it is amazing how quickly a dose of humility and openness can lead a rush to accepting challenge through the organization. Based on my experience the result will be a truly winning organization as we have seen at Dunkin’ Brands.”